For many years, moderate Republicans have supported comprehensive immigration reform, and a bill did pass the GOP-controlled House in 2013 but died in the Senate.
Conservative Republicans in the highly divisive atmosphere today never break ranks. Until just now. On May 6, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was in York County, in his home state, South Carolina, and had these very encouraging things to say in urging for comprehensive immigration reform:
"You’ve got to find a way to move the country forward on immigration. We’ve been yelling about this thing. You’re not going to deport eleven million illegal immigrants, because there are two million in the agriculture business. If you took every illegal immigrant out of agriculture, we’d all be paying twice as much for food. So be practical. Make it a win-win. Take somebody who broke the law, and make them get right with the law, and make them valuable to the country. That to me is a win-win.
"These DACA kids, what are you going to do with them? I think the good deal would be to say: 'Okay, the ones who are not crooks, who have been biometrically identified, go through a criminal background check, you either go to community college for two years, join the military, have some kind of job skill we need, you can stay.'
"I’ll make a prediction: that Trump is going to surprise everybody on immigration, that Trump’s going to find solutions that maybe Obama or Bush couldn’t find – because if he says the border is secure, people will believe it.
"I will gladly work with the Democrats for things that matter for me, like fixing our broken immigration system."
Graham’s comment on the economic necessity of two million undocumented immigrants to our agriculture industry is pure realpolitik – like when President Nixon went to China, which flew in the face of generations of Red-baiting Republicans.
Why is virtually no one, either Democrat or Republican, talking about the longstanding importance of undocumented immigrants to our economy? It’s like government by ostriches.
When driving by manicured Bel Air lawns on campaign-finance junkets, who do they think all those landscape engineers are? Furthermore, though I normally avoid putting words in anyone’s mouth, I’d wager what Sen. Graham means by "make them valuable to the country," he knows d*** well they’ll get voting rights at some point, since apartheid isn’t about to happen in the United States.
Given deeply entrenched partisan warfare, a Republican President arguably has a much greater chance at masterminding comprehensive immigration reform in this country. That’s because if a dozen Republican legislators, persuaded by Graham, Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, et al, can have some assurance of presidential endorsements when Tea Party challengers take them on in primaries, and make some quite reasonable concessions, a comprehensive deal has a decent shot at passing.
Those moderate Republicans would quickly be roadkill if Democrats controlled both Congress and White House, and they dared vote for a Democratically-sponsored immigration bill.
The administration needed something official out there, so now they’ve put more or less an immigration reform White Paper on the table.
The Dreamers were deliberately left out. Why?
The answer is simple: if tomorrow, the Democrats said they’ll sign the deal it Trump added the Dreamers, he’d do it instantly.
Think about it.
The DA in Obama’s DACA Executive Action stands for Deferred Action.
That means deportation or a green card will be decided at a later date. Pretty precarious if you consider that you have to reveal your name and address to DHS and don’t know if in a few years a Republican will cancel the executive action — which is what happened.
The only guarantee in Obama’s Dreamer deal was that deportation would be delayed. There was certainly no pathway to citizenship offered. This shaky offer is what led to only 750,000 of 1,800,000 eligible Dreamers taking the risk on Obama’s deal.
For nearly a decade, no presidential candidate, either Republican or Democrat, stretched beyond the 750,000 to the full 1,800,000 eligible for DACA, or talked seriously about a pathway to citizenship.
Until President Trump.
It’s true he canceled Obama’s executive action, but it would seem he’s shown his hand a bit on the Dreamers, and if part of comprehensive immigration reform, he could just rename it as with NAFTA and assert it was his idea. I’d predict the Dreamers will be Trump’s first point of compromise if there are any negotiations.
To show how he’s no pushover, Sen. Graham sets forth some strongly worded conditions for the Dreamers: biometric ID, criminal background check, community college or military service, and a job skill. Many politicians keep talking like the Dreamers are kids, and Graham sounds like some extreme vetting will be imposed. But the reality is that many are about thirty years old, have tax IDs, and satisfied every one of the Senator’s preconditions long ago.
The biggest obstacle to comprehensive immigration reform is the "Big, Beautiful Wall, paid for by the Mexicans." Its mere mention riles up Democrats hugely. But please note: 1) no more mention of Mexicans paying, 2) words like "fencing" and "barrier" have replaced "Wall," and 3) no more promises it will run from sea to shining sea.
High fences have been going up for decades under both Democrat and Republican administrations, about 700 miles so far, mostly around the big cities. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has always sought an efficient and effective balance between this and those ubiquitous SUVs roaming up and down rockier terrain. This process is likely to continue, with more barriers near growing cities.
I’d wager a few miles of these ongoing modifications originated during the Obama years. Since we know the full 1,954 miles will never happen, can’t some moderates on both sides of the aisle just figure out a way to have a bipartisan ribbon-cutting ceremony on some "amazingly, extremely strengthened" ongoing modifications?
Besides, everyone knows that the influx of undocumented immigrants today has a much higher percentage just turning themselves in with Asylum claims, and not trekking through arid mountains with coyotes beyond current fencing limits.
In the decades since the Industrial Revolution, immigration law has ebbed and flowed. We had the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. We had the anti-Italian Immigration Act of 1924. Over these years, conservative politicians have tended to be the loudest anti-immigrant voices.
We had one president decades ago who had the audacity to give amnesty to 60% of all the undocumented immigrants in the United States, a full three million people. This lunatic traitor — no doubt a harbinger of Democrat Socialists grandstanding today — was Ronald Reagan.
So it’s my sincere hope that many Republicans will heed Sen. Graham’s words, and: 1) accept that we cannot deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, including the Dreamers 2) accept that they are essential to America’s economy, 3) make them valuable to our country, and 4) gladly work with Democrats on fixing our immigration system.
Henry Seggerman managed Korea International Investment Fund, the oldest South Korean hedge fund, from 2001 until 2014. He is a regular columnist for the Korea Times, and has also been a guest speaker, written for, or been interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, Bloomberg Television, Reuters, and FinanceAsia — covering not only North and South Korea, but also Asia, as well as U.S. politics. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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